The Washington County Board of Supervisors’ decision to try to limit medical clinics that include abortion services probably won’t withstand a legal test. More about that later. First, let’s discuss the zeal of the all-male, all-white board to make it harder for their female constituents to get legally protected health care.
Five of the seven board members were so eager to restrict abortion services in their rural community that they voted to forbid expansion of any such services in the county. But that was not enough for the good old boys. They wanted to protect their women from the scourge of a similar facility coming to town. So in addition to proudly declaring their territory a “pro-life county,” the supervisors presented the county planning commission with an ordinance that would make it against zoning regulations for any new medical facility that includes abortion services to open in Washington County.
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Sixty people spoke before the vote, according to the Bristol Herald newspaper. Some speakers understood the law of Virginia and the recent Supreme Court ruling that took away abortion rights from all American women. Others understood the challenges of finding health care in rural Virginia.
“There are not lines of abortion clinics lined up to open up here,” county resident Kelly Bremmer told the supervisors, according to the Bristol Herald. “This resolution will make this county a harder place to live and practice medicine. Our access to comprehensive health care is at stake.”
Bremmer was right. Finding doctors to work in rural areas is already a crisis. A lack of health care facilities forces residents to drive hours to see specialists and sometimes just to reach a general practitioner.
As they distinguished themselves as ideologues, board members were apparently not swayed by that fact.
Nor, it seems, by the law.
The Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade made abortion rights a state issue to be decided by 50 legislatures, including Virginia’s General Assembly. The justices didn’t mention the Washington County board, no matter how passionate its patriarchs are about denying women control over their bodies. Until the General Assembly acts, abortion services remain legal and protected in the Old Dominion.
Then, there’s the Dillon Rule. That’s the Virginia law that says localities can only do what the General Assembly allows them to do. “While the General Assembly has delegated zoning power to local governments generally, it has not specifically made provision for local governments to regulate abortion clinics,” University of Virginia law professor Richard Schragger told The Daily Progress.
University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias thinks the Washington County plan to restrict abortion access “is vulnerable to challenge.” “Localities,” he told The Daily Progress, “can’t just do things that contradict the state.”
Maybe the anti-abortionists of Washington County hope to set a precedent for other like-minded patriarchs to follow.
One of the most telling statements reported by the Bristol Herald was Board Chairman Saul Hernandez explaining to a packed house that “I was elected to represent the folks in the Tyler district, and nobody asked me when they elected me that I’m not supposed to just agree with this. But nobody asked me to leave my faith outside the door. You may not agree with that, you may feel very staunchly that there’s a separation of church and state, but I can’t park my faith, I can’t separate, I can’t bifurcate.”
Anyone who needed a working definition of Christian nationalism, there it is. Hernandez believes his Christian faith gives him the right to set public policy based on his personal beliefs.
We have no reason to doubt Hernandez’s devotion. He and other board members who hope to restrict abortion services in Washington County may have had righteous intent when they voted.
What they lacked was any consideration for the women they serve, not to mention the legal or constitutional right to do what they did.